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Juneau-Douglas City Museum


Lowell, Leonard and Hildie

by Leonard Lowell
UID=932


Leonard Lowell was born in Juneau to John and Anna Lowell at St. Ann’s Hospital on January 27, 1921. He attended grade and high school in Juneau, graduating from Juneau High in 1938. During the summer months he worked in the fishing industry, primarily in Elfin Cove.

From 1939 to 1945, he attended the University of Washington and worked at Boeing Aircraft Company in the development of an electronic fuel gauge system for the B-29 aircraft. On June 11, 1943, he married Alvhild Leirfallom in Seattle. From July 1945 to May 1946, he was in the U.S. Navy attending electronic school and was discharged at Galveston, Texas, May 16, 1946. The couple moved to Juneau arriving on June 6, 1946.

From 1946 to 1948 he resumed fishing halibut on his father’s boat Fern II. In the fall of 1948, he started working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as an electrical engineer. In 1955, he became area construction engineer for the Division of Indian Health, U.S. Public Health Service when the agency was divided from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. From 1948 to 1958, he traveled extensively to remote villages in Alaska including Little Diomede.

In 1958, he became the first employee of the Department of Public Works becoming the director of the Division of Buildings. That division was responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of all state buildings in Alaska. During this time the Division was responsible for the restoration of the state buildings damaged as a result of the 1964 Anchorage earthquake and the 1967 Fairbanks flood. In 1967, the Division of Buildings construction program consisted of 40 various projects ranging from a value of $100,000 to $5,400,000.

He quit the state in 1968, and opened the electrical engineering firm of Leonard P. Lowell and Associates. The firm has provided electrical designs of schools, hospitals, various buildings and utilities but has specialized in marine related facilities. He has provided the electrical design of the majority of the harbors in Alaska and various ferry terminals. He has been registered as an electrical engineer in Alaska since 1957. He also has had a first class radiotelephone license. In 1992, the local engineering group honored him as Engineer of the Year.

Alvhild Kamilla Leirfallom was born in northern Minnesota March 15, 1923, to the Rev. Sivert and Olga Nelson Leirfallom, the sixth of seven children. Her father had come to the United States at 17 from Hegra, Norway, where he was born. He learned the language, worked and put himself through St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and the Lutheran Seminary at Red Wing, Minnesota. Her mother was born in Chetek, Wisconsin, of parents and siblings who had been born in the Drammen area of Norway. The family moved to Lake Stevens, Washington, in 1924 when her father developed stomach cancer and the doctors suggested a change of climate might help.

The family consisting of the father, pregnant wife and six children put everything in an open touring car and drove to the west coast, having three accidents on the way. Fortunately, none were very serious. After a couple of years, they moved to the Silvana area of Washington. When her father died in 1927, the family moved to East Stanwood where they lived until the children were through grade and high school.

Alvhild graduated from Lincoln High School, East Stanwood in 1940, and attended St. Olaf College in Minnesota for two years. While at St. Olaf she acquired the nickname “Hildie” because her fellow students couldn’t pronounce “Alvhild.” During the summer of 1942, she worked at Boeing inspecting rivets in the wing tips of the B-17’s. She also met Leonard Lowell and decided not to go back to college. They were married June 11, 1943. After Leonard got out of the Navy in 1946, they decided to move to Juneau so he could fish halibut with his father and earn some money.

Hildie worked for the Welfare Department for 5 years as an accounting clerk. After 1953, she worked for an insurance adjuster and various temporary jobs filling in for vacationing personnel. In 1955, she was hired by the Legislature and worked in the House of Representatives as engrossing and enrolling clerk for six sessions and in the 1963 session, as assistant secretary of the Senate. As an employee of the House, no one was allowed to go into the House or the gallery during the sessions so she really enjoyed the Senate position because it meant she was present at all the Senate sessions. While working in the House “boiler room,” all the typists, the proofreaders, the mimeograph machine and its operator and the coffee pot and the lady who made the coffee for all 40 House members were in one room. All the bills were typed on stencils, run through the mimeograph machine and collated on a table in the center of the room. What a relief when the coffee pot was moved to a separate lunchroom and the print shop was added!

Leonard and Hildie adopted two children. Lori Anne was born January 30, 1963, and Robert John December 11, 1964. Both attended the local schools. Lori is living in Lahaina, Hawaii, and Bob is in Juneau.

The couple spend most of their free time fishing and boating. In 1950, Hildie won the first trout derby sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce with a 25-3/8" cutthroat caught at Turner Lake. With a friend, they took a boat to the creek coming out of the lake, hiked about 3/4 mile in with all their food, motor, gas and equipment and ran to the upper end of the lake where there was a 3-sided cabin. After a full day of fishing, the steak, fried over a campfire in complete darkness on a “paddle” made of green willows woven together, tasted great.

Together with two other couples, they built a cabin up the Taku River. In the summer they used it for fishing and exploring the creeks of the lower valley and in the fall for moose hunting. They had many experiences running up the river from town. In one instance, the outboard motor on the riverboat had just come back from a local repair shop but developed engine problems just after rounding Salisbury Point. Leonard ran ashore, looked at the motor, found a screw missing so went up the beach and cut a twig the correct size, put it in place of the missing screw and continued to the cabin. It lasted several trips.

Today they do most of their boating and salmon fishing from a well-equipped 34 foot boat. They enjoy visiting Maui, Hawaii, hopefully every year and seeing their grandchildren. Hildie enjoys bowling in the senior league and is proud of the 600 series she made when she was 73 years old.